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Supporters of a proposed ballot initiative argue new state housing laws allow developers to build “large, multi-family buildings” next to single-family homes without local approval or community input. Courtesy photo
Supporters of a proposed ballot initiative argue new state housing laws allow developers to build “large, multi-family buildings” next to single-family homes without local approval or community input. Courtesy photo
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Statewide coalition’s initiative seeks to ‘keep local control’ over housing

REGION — A statewide consortium of city leaders, nonprofits and volunteers has responded to a series of recent California housing laws with a proposed initiative seeking to reclaim local zoning control.

The coalition, “Our Neighborhood Voices,” is proposing an initiative constitutional amendment to allow city and county land-use and zoning laws, including housing laws, to override most conflicting state laws. The group is currently gathering signatures to put the initiative on the November 2022 ballot.

“The measure will protect a community’s ability to shape local growth, preserve the character of neighborhoods, and require developers to produce more affordable housing and contribute to the costs associated with new housing,” according to the group’s website.

The “Brand-Huang-Mendoza Tripartisan Land Use Initiative” has several significant backers, including Redondo Beach Mayor Bill Brand and John Heath, founding president of the United Homeowners’ Association, who argue that taking local planning away leads to an end of single-family zoning as well as “massive displacement and gentrification.”

Specifically, the initiative provides that “city and county land-use and zoning laws (including local housing laws) override all conflicting state laws, except in certain circumstances related to three areas of statewide concern: (1) the California Coastal Act of 1976; (2) siting of power plants; or (3) development of water, communication, or transportation infrastructure projects.”

Additionally, the measure “prevents state legislature and local legislative bodies from passing laws invalidating voter-approved local land-use or zoning initiatives” and “prohibits state from changing, granting, or denying funding to local governments based on their implementation of this measure.”

The initiative follows Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signing of Senate bills 9 and 10 into law back in September, both of which aim to address the state’s housing crisis by changing zoning laws to allow for more units on a single parcel of land, which will undoubtedly impact single-family neighborhoods.

Sen. Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) was one of the leading co-authors of the two bills.

SB 9 allows property owners to build two units on one parcel of land, then also allows owners to split their parcels into two. This means that a parcel of land that was previously designated for a single-family home could have up to four units if the property owner desires to build those units.

If a property owner wishes to split a parcel, they must agree to live in one of the units for three years unless they are a nonprofit organization.

The somewhat less contentious SB 10 allows but does not require cities to zone a single parcel for up to 10 residential units if located near high transit areas.

Proponents of the ballot initiative argue new state housing laws allow developers to build “large, multi-family buildings” next to single-family homes without local approval or community input, while the measure would protect a community’s ability to “shape its own growth” and “preserve the character of the neighborhoods.”

“This initiative is the antidote to bad housing bills that threaten community character and force high-density housing without any affordable housing requirements,” said Encinitas resident and proponent Susan Turney. “Restoring local control, the initiative does away with the mantra, ‘Our hands are tied by the state law,’ and also eliminates ‘loss of state funding’ excuses,” Turney said.

Matthew Lewis, director of communications for SB 9 proponent group California Yes in My Back Yard (YIMBY), said the two bills are far more modest than what opponents are arguing.

“We’re talking about duplexes and fourplexes here,” Lewis said. “These are not giant buildings.”

According to Lewis, large developers aren’t going to waste their time with any developments under 30 units. Lewis also noted that it is completely up to a property owner if they want to add one, two or even three more homes on their land and that it isn’t any business of their neighbors what they decide to do.

Additionally, Lewis noted that many of California’s beach communities, such as Redondo Beach, have consistently pushed away lower-income families and people of color through restrictive zoning laws.

Last week, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced a new strike force within the California Department of Justice dedicated to enforcing housing laws in an effort to hold cities and counties  accountable for “fair housing, equity and housing production.”

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